UTU has a strong ambition and shared strategic goal to promote societal impact and its services
UTU’s support services for societal impact and engagement were established in 2021. Its task is to promote the effective implementation of the University of Turku’s missions and the active interaction between the University and its stakeholders. Many of its strategy’s cross-cutting themes are present in support services. The support services help UTU management in steering its societal impact and engagement. The services were recently reorganised to strengthen the effectiveness of UTU’s societal impact, support management in this key task and increase inter-institutional cooperation between faculties for impact and with stakeholders. The idea is also to help faculties with societal impact issues.
Societal impact is a jointly shared goal and direction of the UTU community. The organisation of support services is clear and well-established. The University has appointed a Vice Rector responsible for partnerships and strategic engagement. Otherwise, the support services of societal impact are organised under a director of partnerships and strategic engagement. In some faculties, vice deans for societal impact have also been appointed. UTU’s societal interaction and impact are enhanced by its Advisory Board and International Advisory Board. According to the audit visit, it seems to be a logical solution to place the support services in one unit under the responsible Vice Rector. This could bring synergy and a holistic approach.
In the support services for societal impact, most key elements are in place or at least in the working process. The renewed administration and management structure supports providing support services for societal impact and engagement.
The societal influence and engagement support services are appropriately targeted at different tasks and user groups. However, not all community members were aware of them yet due to the newness of the services. For instance, students seem not to be sufficiently aware of UTU’s partnerships. The flow of information to students should be strengthened regarding internships and other opportunities to learn and do research in the corporate and public sectors cooperating with UTU.
Support services for societal impact are well organised
The University has been developing determinedly its support services for societal impact. The services are currently well organised, and many development projects are ongoing. There is a Unit for Partnerships and Strategic Engagement. Based on staff interviews, the staff values the work of support functions. It helps interinstitutional interaction.
Strategic development: The Strategic Planning Unit is responsible for producing and analysing strategic foresight information on UTU’s national and international environment. This Unit should ensure that foresight information is widely available and fully exploited in strategic development. Other available strategic information should also be timely, easily accessible and verifiable.
Sustainability development services support the University’s development, and sustainability is integrated into all of UTU’s core functions and services. Communicating and acting on sustainable development should be seen as positive, inspiring and adding value to all activities. The audit team is delighted to see special services for that. The audit team recommends that sustainable development be considered in all UTU’s activities, education provisions and research. These themes should be placed at the core of activities as far as possible.
Partnerships and strategic engagement services coordinate university-level partnerships and support faculties in maintaining and developing a partnership management programme (CRM). For faculties and especially academic faculty members, managing and maintaining partnerships may be a new issue for which they need help and support. The audit team recommends that the previously collected data by faculties should be compiled in the management programme so that faculty members can update the partnerships themselves. If more than one faculty have the same partners, information on cooperation should be brought together in one place.
Monitoring of societal interaction and impact: Several units monitor UTU’s societal interaction, impact, operational environment and broad societal trends from different perspectives. The audit team recommends that these units utilise existing indicator data in mutual collaboration and supported by the partnership management programme (CRM).
UTU Business Collaborations (UBC) help researchers and research projects with funding preparations with companies. UBC works closely with research affairs, which is important because many questions are the same in both support units, even if funding instruments vary.
Entrepreneurship promotion services increase entrepreneurial thinking and activity, advise on developing a business idea, drawing up a business plan and raising funds. Services also support the development of research-driven innovations at UTU. The Entrepreneurial Hub Konttori is the primary place and source of information for all students interested in entrepreneurship. Collaboration with the students’ entrepreneurship association is essential for continuing activities and setting objectives and long-term planning. The audit team encourages entrepreneurship promotion services to work in close connection with UBC.
Alumni relations services coordinate UTU’s alumni relations and support faculties and units developing alumni relations via the alumni network and register. The alumni network is a considerable asset for the University. There is an unused potential in local, national, and global alumni networks, businesses and industries. Based on the interviews, the alumni network should be listened to more to receive input and feedback from the UTU community. An alumni network is one way to collect and analyse feedback. Alumni are usually happy to share their expertise with their alma mater, and they can also be future donators. The audit team recommends that UTU make the alumni network known to all current students. The audit team also recommends that the University strengthen the utilisation of alumni network and alumni database, and the potential embedded in the alumni cooperation.
International network services promote strategic international cooperation and mobility and facilitate cooperation between stakeholders and networks at local, regional, national and international levels. As internationalisation is at its best in all the University’s activities, international networks are the University’s lifeblood. The audit team recommends that the University of Turku increase the international dimension of all partnerships. International networks should be visible to students through international exchanges, internships, teaching content, research and broader societal interaction. CRM is a good tool for managing international networks.
Fundraising services coordinate UTU’s fundraising and donations. The fundraising services also support faculties in fundraising. Fundraising policy, partnerships, partner relationship management (CRM) and development are also in progress and should be finalised soon. A clear and ambitious fundraising policy is vital to increase external funding. The cooperation with funders must be continuous, sustainable and built on trust.
The UTU Communications Unit manages the University’s communication and marketing, develops communication methods, skills, and tools, provides communication training and supports faculties in communication. Communication is essential to maintaining societal relations and reputation and disseminating research results to the public. Communications are well organised and implemented. UTU’s magazine, websites and social media accounts are in place, and the communication unit is active. The Communications Unit monitors UTU’s public image and deals with media connections. The unit helps research teams communicate research results in a societally effective way.
Research Funding services, part of research affairs, offer support for researchers in the application phase of supplementary funding in matters regarding funders’ terms, writing a proposal and planning a research project. The unit also assists with the negotiation phases of international projects and project amendments. The project coordinators support the implementation of individual projects. Already at the stage of applying for research funding, it is worthwhile to consider the research’s impact and where support services can help. It is also crucial for other research affairs, such as innovation services, research development and research careers, to keep in mind the promotion of societal engagement and its impact on their own activities.
Other support services, such as academic affairs and HR, also have many activities that have similarities with support services for societal impact and interaction. Open University, continuous learning and global student services are direct societal impact activities in many ways. In HR, especially recruitment, communication is essential to societal interaction and engagement at regional, national and international levels.
Proposals for next steps
Based on the audit interviews, further cooperation between the support services, faculties and different advisory groups should be developed. Regarding the support services, it could be considered whether the members of the advisory boards could be utilised in obtaining research funding and creating new connections. The support services must be integrated into the work of faculties. Based on the UTU staff interviews, the integration into faculties seems to work well.
Wider adoption of CRM and upgrading or replacing the research information system will help with many of the problems encountered in the early years of the support services. The audit team considers it essential that up-to-date information is readily available on the various societal impact and engagement activities, educational provisions and research. Faculty members also need to be engaged in the importance of societal interaction as part of the University’s work.
International talent can have a significant societal impact in many ways. Therefore, the international dimension should be strongly involved in all support services. Talented international labour is also key to the Turku region in attracting investments and new researchers.
The usefulness of support services must be verifiable. Its different functions should be monitored closely with a comprehensive reporting system and indicators. In order to support the development of support services, feedback from stakeholders must be collected and analysed regularly, and activities developed based on them. Stakeholders should also be informed about actions made based on their feedback. Discussion events with stakeholders are also valuable for generating enhancement ideas. Making process maps also helps lean processes so that all benefit.